Germany faces a record series of terrorism trials after police arrested 25 people in dawn raids on Wednesday in connection with an alleged attempted coup.
All are suspected members of the Reichsbürger movement, a loose alliance of neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists who deny the legitimacy of the modern German state.
Germany’s federal prosecutor accuses them of membership of a terrorist organisation and plotting to overthrow the constitutional order.
In total 3,000 police and special forces officers were mobilised on Wednesday, raiding 30 locations across Germany as well as in the Italian city of Perugia and the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel.
Among the accused are suspected ringleader Heinrich XIII Prinz Reuss zu Köstritz, a 71-year-old property magnate and wine dealer from an aristocratic family; and Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a Berlin circuit court judge and former MP for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
It is alleged that while they and other members of a conspiratorial “council” discussed their coup for at least a year, in chats and calls monitored by domestic intelligence, former soldiers expanded a paramilitary wing.
Prosecutors say group members believe a “conglomerate of conspiracy myths”, including the baseless QAnon movement’s claims of child abuse networks operating among US political and entertainment circles.
This has taken root in the Reichsbürger movement, whose 21,000 followers reject the legitimacy of the state and often refuse to pay taxes.
“They are firmly convinced that Germany is currently governed by members of a so-called ‘deep state’,” the federal prosecutor said in a statement, referring to the baseless theory of a faceless elite that controls puppet democracies worldwide.
The group was allegedly planning to attack this “deep state” by storming the German parliament, the prosecutor said, and was “aware that there will also be deaths but accepts this scenario as a necessary intermediate step to achieve the ‘system change at all levels’ it is aiming for”.
As part of his coup, Prinz Reuss zu Köstritz had already contacted the Russian Federation, according to the prosecutor, “but there is no indication that contact persons have reacted positively to his request”.
In one tapped phone conversation, the ringleader reportedly said: “We’re going to wipe them out now, the time for fun is over.”
A government spokesman said chancellor Olaf Scholz viewed the group members as “extremely dangerous”, while president Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that Germany’s “liberal democracy ... must also be prepared to defend itself”.